August 4, 2015

Make the medicine go down

Graphic storytelling gets patients to follow their RXs

Women in rural Cameroon took 90% of the pills they were prescribed after seeing illustrated instructions. Those who received only verbal instructions took just 78% of the pills they were supposed to take.

PICTURE THIS Comic strips like these help women in rural Cameroon comply with prescription instructions.

PICTURE THIS Comic strips like these help women in rural Cameroon comply with prescription instructions.

That’s according to a 1997 study by L.N. Ngoh and M.D. Shepherd.

For the study, the researchers gave instructions for taking their prescriptions to 78 nonliterate women in rural Cameroon:

  • Half of the subjects received verbal instructions only.
  • Half received the verbal instructions plus illustrations to take home showing when to take the medicines.

15% more compliant

Four days later, researchers visited the women’s homes and counted the remaining pills to see how well the patients had adhered to the instructions.

The patients who had the illustrated instructions had taken, on average, 90% of the pills they’d been prescribed. Those who’d received only the verbal instructions had taken only 78% of the prescribed pills. That’s an increase of 15%.

Think research on nonliterate women doesn’t pertain to you? You might reconsider: 14% of U.S. adults have ‘below basic’ literacy skills.


Sources: L.N. Ngoh and M.D. Shepherd, “Design development, and evaluation of visual aids for communicating prescription drug instructions to non-literate patients in rural Cameroon,” Patient Education Counsel, 1997; Vol. 31, pp. 245-61.

Peter S. Houts, Cecilia C. Doak, Leonard G. Doak, Matthew J. Loscalzo, “The Role of Pictures in Improving Health Communication: A Review of Research on Attention, Comprehension, Recall, and Adherence” (PDF), Patient Education and Counseling, Vol. 61, 2006, pp.173-190

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